It is now crunch time in the race for nations to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon next year. The second last matches of the qualifying stage will be played this week, where the top team in each of the 12 groups guaranteed a spot in the finals. Here are five things to look out for in the matches.
Young Super Eagles to make their mark
There is a new wave of exciting players currently breaking through the Nigerian national team. This has created a huge sense of expectation in the country, for what many see as a generation that could potentially be their best in history. Twenty-year-old goalkeeper Francis Uzoho who plays for Elche in Spain was one of their biggest stars at this year’s World Cup in Russia. Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi (22), Watford’s Isaac Success (23) and Leicester City duo Wilfred Ndidi (21) and Kelechi Iheanacho (22) are part of this exciting team.
Gernot Rohr’s team take on South Africa in Johannesburg on Saturday. They are currently one point ahead of the second-placed Bafana Bafana in Group F, which means that victory will seal qualification with one match to go.
Uganda to seal spot in Cameroon
Uganda will seal qualification with a win over Cape Verde Islands on Saturday. The Cranes also participated in the 2017 edition of the AFCON finals in Gabon, although they could only finish bottom of their group, with a single point. They are currently top of qualifying Group L, with three wins and a draw from their four matches so far.
Uncertainty reigns in Group F
Kenya’s Harambee Stars will not play this week, after their scheduled match against Sierra Leone was postponed by the Confederation for African Football (CAF). CAF said that this decision was taken in light of the fact that Sierra Leone are still suspended by FIFA.
This quagmire leaves the teams in the group uncertain about their fate. Kenya lead the group on seven points, but they would still have to beat the Leone Stars to qualify, if the latter’s ban was to be lifted.
Must-win game for former champions Zambia
Zambia were African champions only as recently as 2012. It was their first ever AFCON title, an emotional achievement for the entire nation given their previous most promising side had tragically perished in an air crash in Gabon in 1993.
However, it has since been a struggle for Chipolopolo. They exited at the group stage in 2013 and 2015, and did not qualify at all in 2017. They are currently bottom of Group K with four points, albeit just three behind Guinea-Bissau and Namibia. That said, their match against Mozambique on Sunday is a must-win, or else they will in all likelihood miss out entirely once again.
Return of the Ayew brothers
Ghanaian brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew have finally been recalled to the national team after being overlooked for selection by the Black Stars’ manager Kwesi Appiah in recent months. Appiah recently refuted claims that his previous decision had been based on a fallout with the pair’s legendary father Abedi Pele. Whatever the reason, Ghana can ill-afford to lose or draw against Ethiopia on Sunday.